Comparisons between Apex Legends and every other battle royale game should end on a surface level. While Respawn’s new juggernaut retains the essential strands of DNA that make up a traditional BR, it is simply unlike anything else out there right now, a heady cocktail of so many different ideas with an attention to detail that is second to none. Even with dozens of hours of playtime under my belt, I am still finding nuances to marvel at.
The first fresh take on a well-worn formula is immediately obvious: the Legends themselves. An eclectic cast of glory-seekers, edgelords, and massive units are trying for glory as part of the Apex Games, which is a show set in the Titanfall universe. Those disappointed by this not being an out-and-out Titanfall game will like the nods, subtle and otherwise, to the wider world, including Blisk serving up the intro and its drop music seemingly being inspired by a scene in the Titanfall 2 campaign. The hope is that we will eventually get resolution on BT and Jack’s story, but Apex Legends will more than do for now.
The Legends work not too dissimilarly to Overwatch’s heroes, though everyone shares the same health. Their abilities are Passive, Tactical, and Ultimate, with the latter taking the longest to become available. While Apex does veer into trope-y territory with some of them, they’re tropes because they work so well. Characters like Wraith and Gibraltar aren’t exactly “brand new”, but their personalities shine through enough to make them feel original, a sentiment that bristles throughout Apex. Despite its COD-esque sheen at points, it feels like an amalgamation of a shared acronym in terms of personality: Titanfall and Team Fortress.
Their passive abilities enable without player input, so the solid all-rounder Bangalore becomes quicker when they’re shot at and the tracker, Bloodhound, can see fresh tracks left by enemies. Tactical abilities have a short cooldown and range from Wraith being able to go invisible for a few seconds to Pathfinder having access to a grappling hook. Ultimates, meanwhile, are intended to change the tide of battle all on their own. Their usefulness is defined by the character’s class with bombardments ideal for suppression and a portal allowing for quick resetting to then try a different tack, or to just simply run away. There does seem to be some imbalance, however: Pathfinder’s Ultimate, a zipline, is a little underwhelming and not suitable for that many situations, whereas Bloodhound’s needs some serious nerfing as it allows them to see every enemy highlighted in red and also the direct route of their tracks for up to thirty seconds. It’s still early days, so there will most likely be some tweaks in the works.
Being a Respawn game, you can be assured that the gunplay itself feels supreme, it giving intense satisfaction when you mow down an opponent. The lack of wall-running might be a big miss for some, but there’s no denying the fluidity of sliding down an embankment, hopping on to a balloon, and then gliding down on top of another team. The TTK has received some criticism with it being a little high for some, though this seems to be to reward skill over anything else — how often have you found yourself getting shot in the back in FPS multiplayer games with no chance of returning fire? Saying that, some of the weapons in Apex Legends are like trying to battle with a wooden spoon.
RNG is a huge part of all battle royale games, and it’s particularly key in Apex during a hot drop. There’s a welcome amount of variety, but it’s hard to feel emboldened for the fights ahead when you start with a pistol or — god forbid — a Mozambique. Pistols have a decent rate of fire, but you need to use almost a whole clip before you can even down an unarmoured opponent. The Mozambique, meanwhile, is a fake shotgun that you should only equip if you have absolutely nothing else, it only having three shots before it needs reloading and hilariously low stopping power for a supposed shotgun. In fact, the base versions of most weapons in Apex Legends could do with some buffing to make their clips bigger by default, them being unrealistically small with the SMGs incredibly difficult to get a down with thanks to their spread and low damage output.
Luckily, attachments are fairly common and can extend clips, lower recoil, and allow for longer-range engagements based on their rarity. When you’re landing somewhere in Apex Legends’ varied map (I typically prefer Artillery, Bunker, Air Base, or Bridges), there’s usually an abundance of gear available with the game even telling you the rarity of the area once you land. Before you land, however, you must agree with your team on where to drop with the Jumpmaster ultimately having the final say; a superlative design choice to help foster a sense of teamwork and togetherness. When playing with randoms, they will nine times out of ten drop right with you, which is vital as Apex Legends is as much about teamwork as it is a steady aim.
Communication here here is arguably just as, if not more, important than something like Rainbow Six Siege. Some Legends pair together particularly well, such as Lifeline and Gibraltar to go for a secure revive, but the main emphasis is on spotting enemies and staying close together. Once a player is knocked, they can be revived with the bare minimum health, but if they’re finished off, that does not necessarily mean their end. Unlike other battle royale games, players can pick up the banners of their eliminated teammates and then take them to a respawn beacon to bring them back into the match, sans any of their gear. This mechanic can create some unbelievably tense moments, one in particular requiring me to go right into the middle of a fight between other teams to pick up a banner and then make a mad dash to a beacon with hell raining down on me. My eye muscles are still twitching from that one.
The true diamond of Apex Legends, which will no doubt be aped by other developers, is its pinging system. It’s one of the most innovative and intuitive systems I’ve ever seen in a game, regardless of genre. With a simple tap of R1, you are able to designate where to go next or that you have spotted an enemy with there being further scope to tell your team of three that you are looting an area. Pinging particular loot to let your team know that it’s available for claiming eliminates a lot of the guesswork with the option of calling dibs also sure to dissuade arguments. It’s lucky that pinging in Apex Legends is so good, because in-game chat is so bad and probably the worst I’ve ever encountered on PlayStation 4 — everyone sounds like they’re trapped in a cursed stone at the bottom of the ocean and impossible to hear over the cacophony of combat.
The ingenious mechanics of Apex Legends continue the more it leans into its game show concept, though never to the point of being gauche like it was in Radical Heights. Before a match begins, the game will highlight the Champion squad, who were the MVPs of a previous match. Killing them will reward you with a handsome amount of XP and the confidence to go on and win the match — you should never undermine the psychological side of a battle royale game. Additionally, whoever has the most kills in the middle of a match becomes the Kill Leader with XP also being given to whoever can eliminate them. This might not sound like much, but the way these players are represented with gigantic banners highlighting their prowess throughout the map is a great way of adding to the game show theme in an organic and fulfilling way — you won’t quickly forget the first time you see your avatar adorn one of these banners.
The team at Respawn are keenly aware that some battle royales can be a little boring to watch for long stretches, which is where Hot Zones and Supply Ships come into play. Hot Zones highlight where some illustrious gear is and Supply Ships are roving, erm, supply ships that also have worthwhile gear aboard. This promotes squads dropping early to create action from the get-go, alongside the fact that you can’t glide that far once you’ve started your jump. This ethos is further evidenced by the ring (i.e. the storm, gas, what have you), which does not cause much damage at all until right at the end of a match, meaning that if you hear some fighting on the periphery, your squad are pretty much implored to also get involved by design. You could technically hide away until the squads start falling like flies, but aggressive play reaps rewards and also another opportunity to revel in Apex Legends’ fantastic, tactical gunplay.
Your success will also be defined by the quality of your gear; you won’t have much of a chance whatsoever with the basics. Armour is a huge part of Apex Legends with Epic being the most sought after, it effectively giving you an extra life on top of your base HP. This is where some of the complaints against the TTK might be at their most effective as it’s incredibly difficult to go toe-to-toe with a squad geared up to the gills, even more so if they’re lucky enough to come across Legendary gear and weapons, which can give some buffs to things like ability regeneration and even the chance to revive yourself when knocked. Legendary weapons, to me at least, are more like urban legends: I’ve only ever used the Kraber twice and have never even seen the Mastiff shotgun, and this is coming from a level 35.
Progression itself is purely cosmetic, giving players a variety of skins, banners, poses, and more to work towards. Unfortunately, this progression is entirely tied to Apex Packs, which are loot boxes by any other name. While the game does divvy these out to you fairly regularly early on for levelling up, they seriously begin to dry up at level 20 and beyond. Just like the loot in game, the items in loot boxes are categorised by rarity with there being a one in thirty chance of unpacking a Legendary item. Those poor odds become even poorer when the distribution of items covers such a broad scope, including some underwhelming banners for your profile, stat trackers that should just be included from the get-go, and skins for weapons that you will never use. There’s a lot to unlock, but also a whole lot of nothingness.
To make things even worse, there are three different currencies (of sorts) in Apex Legends. Apex Coins can be used to purchase Apex Packs and skins outright from the rotational store with the player also earning Legend Tokens for playing, though they are barely used for anything apart from buying the two Legends, Mirage and Caustic, which take a day and age to grind towards. You can also use these to purchase weapon skins in the store but only after buying a prior skin with Apex Coins, which is, frankly, insidious. You can also use Crafting Materials to unlock skins and “accessories” of your choosing, but these are only available from loot boxes and come in such small quantities that you will be waiting forever to buy anything Epic and above. There’s an obvious need for monetisation as Apex Legends is a free game, but the loot boxes on top of the beginner’s packs, general microtransactions, and a Battle Pass still to come is simply too much.
This — alongside some needed balance changes — is the only significant blot on Apex Legends, which is already the most fun I’ve ever had in a battle royale game despite having sunk far too many hours into its peers. Respawn’s premier gunplay paired with some exceptional twists on the battle royale formula create an irresistible concoction that’s only just getting started. With a clear roadmap already laid out for the year ahead, surely Apex can only get even better from here.
Even the most jaded of battle royale fans will find their interest rejuvenated by Apex Legends thanks to Respawn's attention to detail, superior gunplay, and fantastic innovations, though the loot boxes and progression system certainly need addressing.